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Win or lose, Gallagher looks all set for a career in politics

BALLOT boxes across the country were sprung open at 9am today as counting got under way in the presidential election.

Early indications suggest that less than 50pc of voters made their way to a polling station yesterday.

However, analysts say that the result will be too close to call. Michael D Higgins is the firm favourite but it is impossible to predict how damaged Sean Gallagher's campaign was by recent revelations.

The official result won't be announced until tomorrow but a first count could be concluded late this evening.

Even if the result doesn't go his way Mr Gallagher is refusing to rule out a career in politics.

The Independent candidate has endured a tumultuous end of campaign after his alleged connections with a convicted fuel smuggler were exposed by Sinn Fein.

"I'm going to take it one step at a time. I think we have plenty to focus on in the next 48 hours and I think one campaign at a time is enough to fight," he said.

When it was suggested that he suffered a difficult final 72 hours due to the controversy surrounding an alleged €5,000 cheque, he stated: "This is what unfortunately the campaign ended up being about in the last couple of days.

Blow

"We have always -- and the entire team throughout the country have always maintained -- a sense of dignity and decorum throughout this campaign because that's what the role demands and I think that's what the good people of Ireland deserve."

And Mr Gallagher stated that he "never" had second thoughts about running for president.

"That's the challenge of stepping forward to stand for election, you must go forward with your conviction," he added.

The former Fianna Fail member was accompanied by his wife Trish as he cast his vote in his home village of Blackrock, Co Louth.

His campaign suffered a devastating blow following claims by Martin McGuinness that he accepted a ¤5,000 cheque from convicted criminal Hugh Morgan in return for a photograph with Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Mr Morgan -- who was convicted for tax evasion and fuel smuggling -- has claimed that he wrote Mr Gallagher the cheque when he called to his business in Armagh. Mr Gallagher claimed he had "no recollection" of the meeting.

He admitted that he faced a challenge in ensuring his supporters came out and voted, adding that he felt his team ran a "very clean and positive campaign".

"Until the polls close and the results are out, all day today our volunteers will be getting voters out, getting the message out, we can't take anything for granted or be complacent in any way.

"The most important thing about elections is to make sure we have done all the work on the ground and I am so inspired and energised by the teams of thousands of volunteers who have come out over the last couple of months. It is really humbling," he said.

"Then it is down to the good people of Ireland to elect their next president."